Each Christmas usually arrives with the same lineup of gifts: the big-ticket item you really wanted, some poorly constructed but heartfelt crafts made by your children (macaroni ornaments, anyone?) and the random pairs of socks that someone decided you needed. But occasionally, there’s that one gift you never forget. It might have made you laugh or even cry, but whether you still physically have it or not, it’s never left your mind.
Some of Grit and Grace Life‘s staff and writers share their favorite Christmas memories and gifts:
When I was 18, I had my first “real” boyfriend. I worked at the mall at the time, and I remember he came in to say hi and then went off to shop. A coworker told me that he came in during my break to have them wrap the gift he bought me. As I tried to get her to give me a hint, she said, “He tried hard.” Christmas morning came, and I unwrapped the ugliest necklace. He had it personalized with my name. But, of course, I covered up my face and acted like it was amazing. It was literally the best prep for motherhood!
To say we were poor when I was a kid is a severe understatement! My dad worked night shift for minimum wage in a jam factory and my mom stayed home with five kids. We had one little five-seater car for the seven of us, and that’s how we got around. My sister and I would sit on the back floor while my brother and other sister would sit in the seats! I guess some families in the neighborhood took notice of us and one Christmas even delivered garbage bags full of presents and stockings and food! I had never seen so many gifts! The presents went halfway up the tree.
As a kid, I didn’t really understand; I was just amazed at all the toys. (I even got the Hawaiian Barbie I had been dreaming of!) As an adult, it now hits me differently, and I will never ever forget it. I think it’s where my love for giving gifts was born. Every year, we choose a few families to bless with a big gift basket full of treats just to let them know we love them. It’s become a wonderful tradition and I look forward to it every year!
Christmas morning came, and I unwrapped the ugliest necklace.
One Christmas when my kids were all little and I was a very stressed out young mother with three under five, my mother-in-law, who always gives the best, most thoughtful gifts, gave me a Roomba (one of those little robot vacuum cleaner things). As soon as I opened it, my husband burst out saying, “You got it for her? I can’t believe you did it!”
He had told her not to, saying I would be insulted and it would be the worst gift ever coming from a mother-in-law. He was worried I would take it as an insult to my housekeeping abilities (which are dismal at best) or as some kind of anti-feminist statement that she felt I should be the one cleaning all the floors. There was a really tense moment as they all looked at me, waiting for my reaction.
But the thing is I know my mother-in-law’s heart and while some might have meant it as a kind of backhanded compliment gift, she really just knew I was drowning and wanted to help. I wasn’t insulted at all. In fact, it was one of the most thoughtful gifts anyone has ever given me.
When my kids were younger, I got the brilliant idea to do an advent paper chain. Each kid would get a color: green, red, or white (this was so it wasn’t all wishy-washy and I could tell who wrote what), and every night they had to tell me one thing they were thankful for with no repeats during all of advent. The first week was easy, but by Christmas they were struggling. They were very young so we had things like “Dora the Explorer” and “macaroni and cheese” and “rainbows” and, my personal favorite, “butter,” etc.
I saved each year’s chain and attached them all to each other every year. We did this for six or seven years and then for some reason, stopped. When we moved several years ago, I finally got rid of them (how do you store that?). Those were some of the best memories for me as a mom, hearing and seeing them think about it, sometimes for ever (’cause no one wants to go to bed at bedtime.)
When my husband and I got married, we were young. It’s a bit scary to think we’d be allowed to live unsupervised by another adult really. And having been married for only 6 months, I can’t imagine what our first Christmas would have been like on our own. The food. The decorations. The schedule. Thankfully, there was an unexpected alternative.
Since I had graduated from college a month before our wedding, there was no time to celebrate that milestone. So, my dad and stepmom gifted me and my hubby a trip to Italy with them over the holidays. I was over the moon! My young husband, not so much. He’d never spent Christmas away from his family. This was an early tell of what the holidays would look like for us over the years. Very demanding. Shlepping kiddos here and there. Meeting everyone else’s needs but our own. Don’t get me wrong—I love family time at Christmas too, but not with all the obligations.
It took some convincing, but we went and made some memories on that trip that have lasted for decades in our family. And over the years, we mixed it up with a Christmas vacation here and there. Even our kids look back on those trips as some of their favorite Christmases. Who knows, that first thoughtful gift from my parents might have saved us from our worst Christmas ever!
When I was around seven or eight years old, my grandfather and his wife shipped a huge box of presents to us because they lived out of state. I’ll never forget my youthful excitement that quickly turned into confusion as I opened my first gift that contained a strange, white contraption.”What is it?” my parents asked. “I don’t know…” I said genuinely as I handed it over to my mom. “I think they’re electric scissors,” my mom said, and we all erupted in laughter. We double checked to make sure the tag was for me because it seemed to be a funny mistake.
Turns out, it was the first of many funny surprises for all of us. From that year on, we all braced ourselves with an eager smile for the packages that came from out of state. It became a funny inside joke within my family that taught me a lot about the art of re-gifting!
Every year my father was exuberant when Christmas rolled around. He loved the holiday and all that came with it. Several weeks before Christmas Day, we would head out to purchase the tree, tie it to the top of the car, and haul it home. Inevitably, he would choose one too tall for the living room, so out came the hacksaw. He had enthusiasm in spades, but mechanical reasoning? Not one of the gifts God gave him.
Cutting a few inches off, he would set it in the tree stand ready to prop up. Yet time after time, his cuts would be crooked, and the tree would lean. Laying it down multiple times, he would reduce an 8-foot tree to 5.5 feet. Finally surrendering before we lost all decorating surfaces, he would hit the garage again. This time, he came back with rope and large nails to pound into the wall. Wrapping the rope around the tree and driving a nail into the wall, he stood back delighted.
We were ready to hang the lights, which we did around two or sometimes three ropes holding it in place. He didn’t care, didn’t even mind when visitors asked, “Why do you have the tree tied to the wall?” He would merely smile and wish them Merry Christmas.
Now that I’m a mother, I’m all too familiar with the “Oh, I have the best idea for the kids!” Followed by, “Well…that didn’t go as planned!”
I remember one such Christmas from my awkwardly delightful pre-teen years (picture perm, braces…the whole early 90s glam package), when my little sister and I were just mischievous enough to conduct a recon mission for all the gifts under our tree. We’d pick them up, feel the the weight, count who had more, who’s were bigger—you know, normal snooping stuff.
Clearly my mom had caught on because this particular Christmas she decided to nix using name tags to mark our gifts and instead outsmart us by wrapping each of our presents in two different types of wrapping paper—one for each of us. Cut to Christmas Day, we are opening presents and my sister seemed to be getting things that I wanted and I was unwrapping gifts from her list, followed by a few surprise interruptions from my mom saying, “Wait, wait somethings not right. That’s for your sister.”
Have you figured it out yet? Somewhere along the way my mom confused which style wrapping paper belonged to whom and Christmas morning had become one big mystery game of, “Did I open my gift or did I open your gift or is this actually for me?” Today, it is a treasured memory, and when I think of it it brings a smile and laugh ’cause now I get how easily something like this can happen.
My favorite gift was a complete surprise! My mom called me and invited me to come over and bake Christmas cookies. We do that every year, so I didn’t think anything of it. My daughter and I packed up and went to her house for the day.
While I was gone, my husband and three sons transformed a room in our basement. They ripped up carpet, put down hardwood floors, and brought in workout equipment. They hung posters on the walls and some medals from the past. When we got home that evening I walked into the basement and was completely shocked. It meant the world to me that they put such a time and effort into planning this out. Such a thoughtful gift!
They say it is better to give than to receive, and my favourite Christmas story is my example. I was 21 years old, and for Christmas I gave my parents a baby booty I had knit when I was expecting my first child. I gave my brother and his wife a package of Pampers. They had to guess what it all meant. That is how we told my family that we were pregnant with our second.
We hope that our writers’ memories shared above made you laugh, smile, and even lifted your spirits just a bit during this fun and stressful season. Whatever gifts you receive this year, whether they are special, funny, or exactly what your heart needed, please know that Grit and Grace Life’s staff is wishing you a merry, memorable Christmas!
If this time of year makes you more sad than joyful, you need to listen to this podcast episode: How Do I Deal with Grief During the Holidays? with Nancy Hicks – 170